A real Corker: Author Mark McAvoy on his Cork Rock music bible
David Roy chats to Mark McAvoy about the new edition of Cork Rocks: From Rory Gallagher to The Sultans of Ping, the author's acclaimed guide to his home city's colourful musical history
"I'M MUCH happier with this version, to be honest with you" enthuses author Mark McAvoy of his new revised and updated edition of Cork Rock: From Rory Gallagher to The Sultans of Ping – a definitive and highly readable guide to the rebel city's ever-evolving rock scene.
"This is the kind of definitive statement I was always hoping to have, y'know?"
Originally published to great acclaim in 2009, the new expanded edition now offers even more primary sourced information and anecdotes about pretty much every noteworthy rock band from the Cork scene dating back to the 1960s, including Microdisney, Fatima Mansions, The Frank & Walters and Simple Kid.
"There are a few extra interviews in this one," explains McAvoy (38), who drew on his contacts as a Cork-based music journalist for the tome. "As soon as you write a book like this a lot of other people contact you after it comes out.
"Also, it's written a bit tighter – I can't see any single error in this version, it has been absolutely thoroughly worked over."
Cork Rock also documents seminal music venues like The Arcadia and Sir Henry's, where the city's various musical waves were birthed and nurtured. In fact, it was the loss of the latter venue – a social and musical melting pot where Sonic Youth and Nirvana once played along with countless Cork indie and alternative acts – to property developers in the early 2000s which first prompted McAvoy to start writing the book.
"The Celtic Tiger was in full swing," he recalls. "One of the consequences was that a lot of the venues I would have grown up going to gigs in began to be demolished to make way for residential property.
"When you're a kid you take these places for granted, you think they'll always be there.
"I thought it was important to document these places that were starting to disappear, like Sir Henry's: what they meant to people and the bands and the kind of culture that sprang up around them, what it was all about.
"Obviously, as a lifelong music fan and working as a journalist, I would have been interviewing bands before gigs and stuff. I had a lot of connections and also knew some of the key people personally, so I thought it was kind of time to do it while there was still time to do it."
While he admits to being partial to Cork's irrepressible 'rockstars for all eternity' and live favourites The Sultans of Ping, the author was keen to provide a comprehensive and unbiased overview of the city's musical output.
"I just wanted to do it as fairly as possible based on all the evidence that I could dig out," McAvoy explains. "Everything in there is supported by evidence and direct one-to-one interviews, just so people can get an honest appraisal.
"The concept of the book was to place the reader in the position of a young music fan watching all these bands come and go through the various eras without ever 'aging out'. By doing that, they'd be able to see how and why things changed over the years when usually you wouldn't be able to.
"Even some of the band members who eventually moved away from Cork said they found it interesting to read up on what they'd missed after leaving – they were able to join the dots."
Two key artists featured in Cork Rock have prominent northern connections. Ballyshannon-born blues guitar master Rory Gallagher has long been held in high regard by music fans in the north for playing in Belfast through the height of the Troubles, with plans for a statue outside his regular haunt, The Ulster Hall, currently under way.
Belfast was also the young guitar man's first port of call in establishing himself beyond his adopted hometown.
"When the book was first written there was very little on Rory's emergence from the live blues scene to the international stage," comments McAvoy, who is not related to Gallagher sideman Gerry McAvoy.
"I had to do one-to-one interviews with the surviving band members. But it was a good way to start things off: with the blues scene in Cork and how Belfast was the best option for him when he had to finally 'break out'.
"When Taste did their first gig in Belfast in 1966, it was more 'plugged in' to the world than Cork – they said it was almost like escapism for them."
However, less well known is the story of Finbarr Donnelly, the Belfast-born singer and frontman who spearheaded Cork's punk and post-punk scenes during the 1980s with his bands Nun Attax and Five Go Down To The Sea? before drowning in the Serpentine Lake in London's Hyde Park, aged 27.
"Finbarr Donnelly was kind of a refugee from the Troubles-era in Belfast," says McAvoy, who provides a comprehensive guide to this imposing figure's musical activities.
"Donnelly probably would have been the most influential musician and songwriter in terms of the Cork music scene and the bands that stemmed from it.
"It was basically down to his personality and that kind of quirky sensibility he introduced to music at the time.
"Gallagher would have been the most inspirational and commercially successful, whereas Donnelly would have been influential without being commercially successful.
"But they (FGDTTS?) did make it to Britain and got 'single of the week' in The NME before releasing their final single on Creation Records. Then, as Beethoven, they got 'single of the week' again – but unfortunately he drowned a few weeks later."
Cork Rock's new edition arrives in an era where an internet search can instantly connect readers to the output of even the most obscure acts featured within its pages, including girl synth-poppers Porcelyn Tears (who never actually even released any records, only demo tapes) and unfairly forgotten REM-esque indie rockers Cypress, Mine!.
Even defiantly odd punk/funk John Peel favourites Stump can now be found on Spotify, ensuring a whole new generation of ears are infected by their late frontman Mick Lynch's amusingly crazed lyrics.
"When the book was first published it would have been very hard to get hold of some of the records," says McAvoy, "so it's great to see that the music is back out there for people to discover again."